Bauhaus was a German art school operational from 1919 to 1933 that combined crafts and fine arts. It was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught. The fairytales and myths around the Bauhaus are a legion. Concepts like Bauhaus style or the “Bauhaus idea” have become bromides in current design discourse. The Bauhaus itself has become a myth, an icon of modernism, mistakenly made both its pinnacle and its starting point. Bröhan Museum in Berlin is now explaining this myth to people with its exhibition.
The exhibition is called “From Arts and Crafts to the Bauhaus. Art and Design – A New Unity!”. The exhibition explores the history of Bauhaus and contextualizes it within the Europe-wide emergence of modernism. It shows how Bauhaus developed for example in Glasgow School and Vienna Jugendstilleading up to the Bauhaus school of architecture in Weimar and Dessau.
The exhibition has around 300 artefacts as highlights. There is furniture, graphic design, metal art, ceramics and paintings. So, the exhibition itself is rather small, but every piece of it has a story behind. Whether it is a chair designed by Johan Hoffmann in Vienna, a “Little Red Riding Hood” poster from John Hassall or a tea pot designed by Christopher Dresser, it has something to do with the development of the Bauhaus. Every piece of the exhibition tells its own story and together they form an idea about modern design.
The exhibition starts from “Anglo-Japanese style”. In 1851, there was the world exhibition in London which was the first large showcase about the new kind of industry. Although furniture etc. were machine-produced, they were still overloaded with excessive decorative forms from various centuries. British artists, for example Christopher Dresser, were not willing to put up with the situation and began searching for a new contemporary design. At the same time, the Japanese Empire ended its century-long isolationist policies. Japanese crafts arrived in Europe and were shown at exhibitions in London and Bristol. Artists like Dresser were fascinated by the simplicity, functionality and elegance of the Japanese objects. Their unadorned perfection became the counter-ideal of industrially manufactured products flooding the European markets. That time was basically the beginning of modern design in Europe.
Moving on from Britain, innovations and ideas spread across Europe. Glasgow School, Vienna Jugendstil, Deutscher Werkbund, and the Dutch group De Stijlall learned from the style and added their own elements to design. The Bauhaus exhibition shows how the Bauhaus was influenced by the concepts from this development and how difficult it was to develop an independent formal language from this wide range of positions.
Personally, I found the “From Arts and Crafts to the Bauhaus. Art and Design – A New Unity!” very interesting, educational and definitely worth a visit. Some critics may find an exhibition containing mainly chairs and tables a bit boring, but that is not the case. Every room of the exhibition has texts on the wall explaining about the period of time, thinking processes of the artists and the meaning of the artefacts to the development of modern design and the Bauhaus.
The exhibition is great for everyone who is even slightly interested in modern design or furniture. I found it really descriptive about the developments of furniture design. Now I understand why chairs in my house look like that, and why simplicity and functionality can really be a thing of beauty.
From Arts and Crafts to the Bauhaus. Art and Design – A New Unity!
24 January to 5 May 2019 at Bröhan Museum Berlin